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Ancient Roman Festivals, Celebrations and Holidays P - Z

Updated on January 31, 2011

In this hub I collected all important ancient Roman festivals, holidays and celebrations in an alphabetical order from P - W.

These include:

  • Parilia, held in honor of Pales, the protector of shepherds and their flocks;
  • Parentalia, observed in praise of the manes, the souls of the dead;
  • Plebeian Games, dedicated to Jupiter;
  • Quirinalia, dedicated to Quirinus;
  • Robigalia, held in honor of Robigus;
  • Roman Games, celebrated in praise of Jupiter;
  • Saturnalia, in praise of Saturn, the father of all gods;
  • Vinalia, sacred to Venus;
  • Vulcanalia, observed in praise of Vulcan.

A description of the meaning of each Roman holiday is provided.

Other parts of this series:

Ancient Roman Festivals, Celebrations and Holidays A - Fe

Ancient Roman Festivals, Celebrations and Holidays Fg - K

Ancient Roman Festivals, Celebrations and Holidays L - O 

Pales, protector of shepherds and their flocks, celebrated at the Roman Parilia festival
Pales, protector of shepherds and their flocks, celebrated at the Roman Parilia festival

Parilia or Palilia, Roman festivals and holidays

April 21

Parilia was an ancient Roman festival held in honor of Pales, the protector of shepherds and their flocks. Pales was considered male by some, related to Pan or Faunus, and female by others, similar to Vesta, or Anna Parenna.

According to some experts, the Parilia's name comes from the word pario, meaning to bear or increase, and this Roman holiday was a pastoral rite held in rural areas as well as in the city of Rome itself. In Rome, it coincided with the city’s founding in 753 B.C.

Legend has it that Romulus, one of the traditional founders of Rome, participated in the cleansing and renewal rituals connected to the Roman Parilia holiday. Without any sacrifices offered, purifying rituals or lustrations were performed with fire and smoke.

The blood, preserved from the October Horse Sacrifice 6 months earlier, was burned, along with bean shells and the ashes of the cattle ritually killed at the Cerealia. The stables were also cleansed with smoke and cleaned with brooms.

The celebrants of Palilia offered up cheese, wine, and cakes to Pales. In the countryside, heaps of straw were set on fire, with shepherds and their flocks having to ritually pass through them 3 times. The Roman festival of Parilia came to a close with a great open-air feast.

Roman Parentalia festival
Roman Parentalia festival

Parentalia, Roman festivals and holidays

February 13

Parentalia was an ancient Roman festival observed in praise of the manes, the souls of the dead, particularly deceased relatives.

This Roman holiday began a period of the year, in which Romans were remembering the dead, and which ended with the Feralia festival on February 21.

Parentalia was a quiet, solemn occasion without the gleeful and joyous characteristics of other ancient Roman festivals. Temples, shops and public buildings closed down and people were preoccupied with decorating graves with flowers and foodstuff in the graveyards firmly believing that these would be appreciated and actually eaten by the spirits of the dead.

February 22 was the day of forgiveness, the restoration of friendships and the reconciliation of conflicts between neighbors.

Ludi Plebeii or Plebeian Games in ancient Rome
Ludi Plebeii or Plebeian Games in ancient Rome

Plebeian Games or Ludi Plebeii

November 4-17

The Plebeian Games are believed to have been started by the Roman leader Flaminus in 220 B.C. He built the Circus Flaminius to house the Ludi Plebeii. In later years, the festival have relocated to the Circus Maximus, which was a spacious open-air arena between the Palatine and Aventine hills.

This Roman festival was dedicated to Jupiter, one of whose feast days was November 13. The Games occurred from November 15 to 17 and consisted of horse and chariot races and contests involving running, boxing and wrestling. The first 9 days of the holiday were devoted to theatrical productions.

The Circus Maximus in Rome
The Circus Maximus in Rome

Roman Games or Ludi Romani

September 4-19

Just like the Ludi Plebeii, the Roman Games, traced back to the dedication of the his temple on the Capitoline hill on September 13, 509 B.C., were celebrated in praise of Jupiter, a fact that makes them the very oldest of any ancient Roman festivals or holidays.

The Roman Games were originally a one-day event, but by Julius Caesar's time they were extended to a full 15 days. The Ludi Romani festival set off with a grand procession to the Circus Maximus. Beside the athletes, the procession consisted of musicians, dancers, charioteers, men masqueraded as satyrs dressed up in goatskins, placators of the gods, and animals to be sacrificed at the festival.

The events from boxing to running and wrestling contests, to occasional mock battles and two- and four-horse chariot races all took place at the Circus Maximus.

One peculiarity of the chariot races at the Roman Games was that the drivers were accompanied by partners on foot, who, after a chariot passed the finish line, had to race back to the other end of the arena to decide the outcome of the contest. 

Ludi Romani or Roman Games in ancient Rome
Ludi Romani or Roman Games in ancient Rome
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Statue of the ancient Roman god QuirinusQuirinalia holiday in ancient Rome
Statue of the ancient Roman god Quirinus
Statue of the ancient Roman god Quirinus
Quirinalia holiday in ancient Rome
Quirinalia holiday in ancient Rome

Quirinalia, Roman festivals and holidays

February 17

Quirinus was an ancient Roman god often likened to Mars, the god of war. His name is connected to that of the Quirinal, one of the seven hills on which Rome was founded and the location of an ancient Sabine town, which was the actual headquarters of the cult of Quirinus.

In later days, Quirinus was equated to Romulus and the Quirinalis, his festival held on February 17, fell on the same date on which Romulus was thought to have been deified.

The ancient Roman Quirinalia festival was also connected to the advent of warfare in spring, the time when the arms of the military were brought back into play after the peaceful winter season.

The temple of the god Quirinus on the hill named the Quirinal was one of the oldest temples in the city of Rome. 

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Ancient Roman Robigalia festivalAncient Roman Robigalia holiday
Ancient Roman Robigalia festival
Ancient Roman Robigalia festival
Ancient Roman Robigalia holiday
Ancient Roman Robigalia holiday

Robigalia, Roman festivals and holidays

April 25

Robigus was the ancient Roman god who personified the diseases of crops, such as fungal infection.

When Robigus was angry farmers were in for a disastrous harvest, therefore certain annual festivals and holidays simply had to be there to make the god content.

Robigalia was the major ancient Roman holiday held in honor of Robigus.

Prayers and sacrifices, offered on April 25, were believed to stave off the mildew, rust, wilt, and other blights that often destroyed the crops of the Roman farmers.

Saturnalia, Roman festivals and holidays

December 17-23

Beginning on December 17, the ancient Roman Winter Solstice festival of Saturnalia was celebrated for seven days in praise of Saturn, the father of all gods. It was characterized by the suspension of discipline and reversal of the usual order.

During Saturnalia all grudges and quarrels of the past were put aside, public institutions closed down, wars were put on hold, slaves were served by their masters, and a change of dress between the sexes often occurred.

Celebrants of the Roman Saturnalia holiday offered up gifts of imitation fruit, a kind of fertility symbol; dolls, a symbol of human sacrifice; and candles, a remnant of the bonfire traditions of pagan solstice festivals. Households would often choose a mock-king to watch over the festivities, characterized by various sorts of excesses, hence the modern use of the term saturnalian, meaning "a period of unrestrained license." 

Saturnalia festival celebration in ancient Rome
Saturnalia festival celebration in ancient Rome
Venus, ancient Roman goddess of gardens and vineyards
Venus, ancient Roman goddess of gardens and vineyards

Vinalia, Roman festivals and holidays

April 23, August 19

Vinalia was an ancient Roman festivals sacred to Venus observed each year on two occasions. The first, held on April 23, was named the Vinalia Priora; the second, on August 19, was the Vinalia Rustica. Both festivals of these Roman holidays were at first sacred to Jupiter, but after the Venus worship was brought into Rome in the 2nd century B.C., the older association with Jupiter gradually faded away.

April 23 is believed to have been the day for the first opening of the wine-skins, with the new wine brought into Rome a few days earlier. From the newly opened skins libations were made to Jupiter or Venus in later times, who was the goddess of gardens and vineyards. Winemakers were advised against bringing the new wine into Rome until the Vinalia had been declared.

According to some experts it was actually the August festival when the new wine was brought into the city, while others insist that the Vinalia Rustica was a rite devised to protect the next vintage from disease, extreme weather conditions, and other potentially harmful influences. 

Venus and Vulcan together at the Vulcanalia festival
Venus and Vulcan together at the Vulcanalia festival

Vulcanalia or Volcanalia

August 23

Vulcan was an ancient Roman deity of destructive volcanic fire. When sacrifices were made in honor of Vulcan, people would commonly burn the whole sacrificial animal, often a calf or a boar, rather than reserving its parts as in other celebration rituals.

The Roman holiday Vulcanalia was observed in praise of Vulcan on August 23, a time of year when forest fires might occur and when the granaries was in danger of catching fire. It's no coincidence that the cult of Vulcan was so prominent at Ostia, where most of Rome’s grain was stored.

Vulcanalia was celebrated not only in Rome, but also in Egypt and in Athens, where the flamen Volcanis, the priests of Vulcan offered sacrifices, while the heads of families threw small fish caught in the Tiber River into fires.

Emperor Augustus was honored as Volcanus Quietus Augustus, because he divided the city of Rome into districts to facilitate more efficient fire fighting operations.


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    • Haunty profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Hungary

      Thank you for reading, drbj! I agree, I think we could use more holidays in general. I wonder what would it be like to celebrate so many holidays. Good? Bad? I think it's fair to say this hub series changed my view of Roman life.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Seems, Haunty, the old Romans had even more holidays to celebrate than we do now. For whatever reason, Saturnalia was the only holiday I was familiar with - perhaps because wars temporarily ceased during that holiday. We could use a holiday like that in today's world.

      Thanks for updating my Roman holiday knowledge in such an interesting fashion.


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